Nonprofits face high pressure to be operationally efficient.

Typically, they’re working with tighter budgets than for-profit organizations due to the need to keep administrative costs low. A nonprofit organization with 50 workstations will likely have to do more with fewer resources in comparison to a for-profit organization of a similar size.

This means that in IT support (as in other areas), it’s crucial for nonprofits to select their solutions carefully.

To that end, we’ll take a look at two common modes of IT support for nonprofits to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of each: onsite support and remote helpdesk support.

Which service is better for nonprofits?

Here’s our analysis.

The Benefits of Onsite IT Support for Nonprofits

First, let’s define our term: onsite IT support refers to technical assistance that’s offered on an organization’s physical premises by an engineer, consultant, or other IT personnel.

Importantly, for the purposes of this article, we’re examining outsourced onsite support as a solution. Internal onsite support has its own array of benefits and drawbacks, but this analysis is purposed toward helping nonprofits select ideal third-party services.

With that definition in mind, the benefits of onsite IT support include:

Onsite support offers relational service.

Onsite IT support is inherently more relational than helpdesk support, because it involves face-to-face communication.

Although this may sound like a soft, intangible benefit, relational service can play a large role in effective IT support: it establishes trust and proximity, which lead to proactive communication. It can alleviate substantial issues before they cause damage, or create greater efficiencies that would otherwise go unrealized.

For example: if end users have a relationship with an IT technician and see that person onsite, they may bring up an issue that they’ve been dealing with (say, asking for help with an unoptimized system they’ve been consistently working around). These kinds of issues might not get reported to a helpdesk but resolving them can improve efficiency.

When relationships aren’t in place, issues are more likely to go unaddressed until things become dire – at which point damage has already been done.

Onsite support offers more strategic service.

Secondly, onsite IT support is more likely to be strategic than remote helpdesk support.

This flows partly from relationship and proximity: because onsite support personnel are familiar with users and their needs, they can better recommend strategic plans.

Additionally, many of the strategic elements of systems design are simply better understood onsite – there are often physical (building and hardware) considerations that must be taken into account.

And onsite support is also less reactive, which allows it to be more strategic. A technician may be onsite even if there is no immediate issue, which allows them to engage in proactive monitoring, planning, and upgrading in a way that remote helpdesk support isn’t designed for.

Onsite support can address hardware issues.

Finally, perhaps the most tangible benefit of onsite IT support is its role in solving hardware issues. Remote support is great for software or operating system issues, but when a server or laptop needs attention, somebody has to be there in person.

The Drawbacks of Onsite IT Support for Nonprofits

While onsite IT support offers several advantages, it also comes with two drawbacks:

Onsite support is more expensive.

This is fairly straightforward: outsourced onsite IT support requires paying for somebody to be there in person, which, taking into account travel time, costs more than accessing a helpdesk remotely.

Onsite support is less available.

Additionally, outsourced onsite support personnel tend to be less available. They’re not always onsite – they only come at scheduled times. Even when they are onsite, they’re limited in how much they can tackle at once. If three users have issues simultaneously, an onsite tech will only be able to get to them one at a time.

Additionally, when there is a travel disruption or the support personnel takes a vacation, the onsite support may not have a backup team fully versed in the client’s issues.

The Benefits of Remote Helpdesk Support for Nonprofits

Next, let’s take a look at remote helpdesk support. Again, we’ll start by defining our term: remote helpdesk support refers to technical assistance that’s provided by offsite personnel over a remote communication channel – chat, video call, phone, portal interface, etc. Here, too, we’re analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of an outsourced solution (as opposed to an internal helpdesk).

With that in mind, the benefits of remote helpdesk support include:

Helpdesk support is lower cost.

It’s simply less expensive to access a helpdesk than it is to pay for someone onsite. Travel costs, time expenditure, and related factors make onsite more costly; helpdesk support services simply tend to be more cost-efficient.

Helpdesk support offers greater availability.

Additionally, helpdesk support offers greater availability than onsite support. While onsite personnel likely aren’t available every day and at all hours, helpdesk services often are. And helpdesk services also allow multiple users to call in simultaneously; if three users need support, each can talk to a helpdesk technician right away.

The Drawbacks of Remote Helpdesk Support for Nonprofits

Of course, helpdesk support also has its drawbacks:

Helpdesk support is less relational.

Whereas onsite support personnel are able to develop relationships with end users, helpdesk personnel are less present – they aren’t onsite, so they aren’t delivering support face-to-face, and they’re less likely to be consistently dedicated to an organization, meaning that users are less likely to speak to the same helpdesk personnel each time they call.

Consequently, this mode of support is less suited to uncovering inefficiencies and hidden problems.

Helpdesk support is less strategic.

Cultural knowledge and physical premise familiarity tend to inform IT strategy, and helpdesks are poorly suited to building both.

The reality is that helpdesks aren’t meant to be strategic. As a mode of support, helpdesk services are meant to be reactive – the desk is available when users call. Strategy, of course, requires a proactive approach.

Helpdesk support isn’t able to address physical hardware issues.

Again, the most tangible drawback to this mode of support is that when issues are physical, more than a helpdesk is needed.

The Bottom Line: Nonprofits Should Choose A Hybrid of Onsite and Helpdesk Support.

So, with all of these things considered, which mode of support should nonprofits choose?

Here are a few guidelines:

In reality, though, choosing between helpdesk and onsite tech support shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. The two modes of support are complementary to each other, and accordingly the best IT solutions offer both. Most managed service providers offer a helpdesk for employees to call into and regular onsite support where appropriate (either on-demand or via scheduled check-ins).

And rarely is onsite support delivered as a standalone service without access to a helpdesk – so, if you choose to outsource onsite support, you’ll likely have the ability to access remote support, as well.

Looking for an IT solution for your nonprofit? Get in touch with us. At Community IT Innovators, we’ve been exclusively serving nonprofits for over 25 years.

Our tandem approach of helpdesk and onsite support will create a solution that will empower you to accomplish your mission.